Based on a still-popular children’s book originally published in the ’30s, Mr. Popper’s Penguins drags the title character (Jim Carrey) through your standard array of Disneyesque transformative events meant to wring squeals of joy from wee ones and a tear or two from their nostalgic parents.
Highly reminiscent of ’60s deadbeat-meets- cute-animal flicks, Popper’s trades in the shaggy dogs, monkeys and ducklings for a six-pack of CG penguins, but the song remains the same.
Mr. Popper is an icy-cool NYC real estate broker who prides himself on scoring Trump-style property coups. Of course, all this single-minded paper-chasing has made him a lousy husband and dad.
His ex-wife (Carla Gugino) and two kids (Maxwell Perry Cotton, Madeline Carroll) are all very disappointed in our well-heeled hero, and it’s obvious that it’s his heart that needs filling, not his wallet.
Salvation comes in a big wooden box, when Popper suddenly inherits a penguin (quickly followed by five more) from his estranged and recently-deceased dad.
Antics ensue as Popper’s waddlin’, whoopin’ and poopin’ house guests run amuck in high society New York. And that, basically, is it: computer-generated penguins, goofing around in toilets and chowing on sushi with their exasperated new owner.
Drowsily directed by Mean Girls’ Mark Waters, Popper’s ladles gooey sentiment on top of tiresome gags, making almost no effort to extract any funny at all out of its formidable star.
Anybody could play the flustered Popper, and it would make no noticeable difference. Breakdancing penguins trump leading men, every time.
There is one gleaming bright spot in his gloppy pile of tree sap, however. Ophelia Lovibond sparkles as Popper’s posh Brit assistant, Pippi, who stuffs every sentence with ‘P’ words. Lovibond’s a delight, and the only piece of this ’60s throwback that works.
The rest? Well, the real penguins on YouTube are funnier. And cheaper to watch.
Carrey fans will be let down by the rubber-faced one playing straight man to a pack of penguins. While kids may find the plot p-p-past its sell-by date.